1916 - 1988

Liza Jane Williams

Alberta, Alabama
About

In the woods near Rehoboth, in a humble dwelling with few amenities, Patty Ann Williams (1898-1972) and her daughter Liza Jane Williams lived with Liza Jane's children. Both women produced outstanding quilts.

I'm fifty-four years old and never did get married. Wasn't lucky enough. But I've got ten children and seven live with me here. Most of them 's in school. I get a check for eighty dollars a month and a hundred dollars a year for cotton. But that money is eat up by fertilizer and the seeds. Commodity people give us some food, but that's just once a month. And the food's thirty miles away. I don't have a car, so someone's got to take me. The last week before we get food, we might eat some yellow grits and beans. We're lucky if we get anything. I'd like to do better. But I've done all my days in the fields, and there ain't no money in farming. I can't live on eighty dollars a month, but I just do the best I can.

I got the pictures on the wall for a dollar. They were three great men. They did lots of things I didn't even hear tell of before. They was the cause of the few things we get here now. We wasn't getting nothing before. Now we get a little food. And they started us off to vote.
Liza Jane Williams

Liza Jane's daughter Pattie Irby speaks about the family.

We lived in a very old house. Our life was tough; we had to use wood-burning stoves, kerosene lamps to see by; we got electricity in the mid-'60s. We used magazines and newspaper pasted to the walls for wallpaper. That was, you could say, our TV; we'd lay down in the bed and look up and see that magazine and fantasize about what life could be like. We had to go into the woods to get wood for the stove so we could cook. My grandmother was Patty Ann Williams. She didn't go to the fields after she got old. We'd go to the fields and she'd stay and do the cooking. There'd always be soup waiting when we got back. She had done some field work, but her husband, Prince Williams, he worked in the pulpwood mill and mostly provided for her.

Her daughter Liza Jane, she was my mother, and by her never marrying, she stayed home with her mother, my grandmother. We lived back over in Wilcox Corner. My mother and grandmother had both been born and raised here in Rehoboth. Mother worked in the fields all of the time. They was tenant farmers and never really grossed anything from the crops that we grew. Every year we was always in the hole. We always owed out everything that was made, regardless of how much. That's the way it went with us. A lot of time we only had corn bread and milk. We had vegetables and hogs, raise some chickens, that's about it, but never had the money to go buy anything. We had to walk a few miles just to get to the road that went to school and places. My grandmother's life was mostly cooking for us and seeing about us. She tell us bedtime stories. It was one of those old homes with two fireplaces, one side my grandmother lived, and us on the other side. It never really get warm though.

My grandmother and my mother always made quilts, but it was just to keep warm. They never really thought about it; whatever was too old to wear, they just tore it up to make quilts. Their nicest quilts they made out of stuff they was giving away up in Selma or someplace like that, you know, like two dollars a bundle.

Gee’s Bend quilts carry forward an old and proud tradition of textiles made for home and family. They represent only a part of the rich body of African American quilts. But they are in a league by themselves. Few other places can boast the extent of Gee’s Bend’s artistic achievement, the result of both geographical isolation and an unusual degree of cultural continuity. In few places elsewhere have works been found by three and sometimes four generations of women in the same family, or works that bear witness to visual conversations among community quilting groups and lineages. Gee’s Bend’s art also stands out for its flair—quilts composed boldly and improvisationally, in geometries that transform recycled work clothes and dresses, feed sacks, and fabric remnants.

The Quiltmakers of Gee's Bend

This uplifting, Emmy-winning PBS film tells the modern-day "Cinderalla" story of the quiltmakers of Gee's Bend, Alabama. Artists born into extreme poverty, they live to see their quilts hailed by a The New York Times art critic as "some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced."